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Race discrimination: Know your rights to protect yourself

Race discrimination in the workplace is complicated. Why? While some cases of racial discrimination may be easy to spot and prove, in many other cases, discrimination is hard to identify right away. It can be even tougher to prove.

Race discrimination is when an employee is treated differently or unfairly based on his or her race or skin color. State and federal laws prohibit discrimination against employees based on their race. This includes discrimination against someone based on racial stereotypes, character traits or assumptions about a person's intellect or abilities.

Examples of race discrimination at work

Have you been the victim of race discrimination at work? Below are examples of situations where race discrimination may occur:

  • Harassment: A co-worker may use the "N word" or other offensive racial slurs in jokes or in comments, even after you've informed him or her of your discomfort and your boss fails to take any disciplinary action against your co-worker to prevent further abuse.
  • Hiring, firing or promotion decisions: Examples include being qualified for a position but not being hired due to your race or ethnicity; being laid off while other white employees with less seniority are kept in their positions; failing to receive a promotion despite your qualifications and the positions go to people of a different race with less experience or qualifications.
  • Pay: An example is a white co-worker in the same position with similar experience and background is paid more than you.
  • Job classification: Your job classification and pay has not changed over the years despite the fact that your responsibilities have changed and your white co-workers have seen changes to their job classification and pay.

Race discrimination can happen to anyone and it can involve individuals of the same race. The law prohibits discrimination against employees based on their race or skin color. It does not stipulate that the victim and perpetrator cannot be the same race.

Employers are required to take steps to prevent or stop discrimination in the workplace. Employees who believe they have been victims of race discrimination, or any other type of discrimination, have rights. It may be difficult to report the abuse, but it is an important step to take.

Victims should report the discrimination to their supervisor or HR contact. If no action has been taken or if your concerns were ignored, what can you do? The best thing to do is to contact an employment law attorney to protect your rights and help enforce the law when your employer will not.

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